READING: Amber Dermont’s “The Starboard Sea”

The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont, St. Martin’s Press, Hardcover, 9780312642808, 320pp. [Click HERE for info]

Starboard SeaI bought The Starboard Sea when it was first released in February, 2012 but it landed in my TBR stack – which is no shame, there are hundreds there – and I kept picking it up but never starting it. In the meantime, I became a Twitter fiend and discovered the virtual Algonquin Round Table of LitWits in which I now live, a beautiful land populated by lovely, kind, generous, fabulously funny and insightful authors and agents and editors and publicists.  A few months ago I became follower of and followed by Amber Dermont. I thought, “I really ought to read that book.”

And so, I picked it up again – and opened it. From the publisher:

JASON PROSPER grew up in the elite world of Manhattan penthouses, Maine summer estates, old-boy prep schools, and exclusive sailing clubs. A smart, athletic teenager, Jason maintains a healthy, humorous disdain for the trappings of affluence, preferring to spend afternoons sailing with Cal, his best friend and boarding-school roommate. When Cal commits suicide during their junior year at Kensington Prep, Jason is devastated by the loss and transfers to Bellingham Academy. There, he meets Aidan, a fellow student with her own troubled past. They embark on a tender, awkward, deeply emotional relationship.

When a major hurricane hits the New England coast, the destruction it causes brings with it another upheaval in Jason’s life, forcing him to make sense of a terrible secret that has been buried by the boys he considers his friends.

Set against the backdrop of the 1987 stock market collapse, The Starboard Sea Amber Dermont is an examination of the abuses of class privilege, the mutability of sexual desire, the thrill and risk of competitive sailing, and the adult cost of teenage recklessness. It is a powerful and provocative novel about a young man finding his moral center, trying to forgive himself, and accepting the gift of love.

“A rich, quietly artful novel that is bound for deep water, with questions of beauty, power and spiritual navigation as its main concerns. The title refers not to the right side of a boat but to the right course through life, and the immense difficulty of finding and following it.”–Janet Maslin, The New York Times

A powerful first novel about life and death, friendship and love, as one young man must navigate the depths of his emotions.

True confession: I am a collision of conundrums, contradictions, and dichotomies, not the least of which centers round the conflict between Charlie, the deeply introspective intellectual imputing to a nearly theologically obsessive degree metaphor and metaphysical meaning to every word, every breath, every miniscule event and then, Sebastian, the libertine, lecherous debauchee who sees a book cover featuring the asses of four teen-boys adorning a story that promises to be about sexual awakening in a prep school and, well, I could tell you it was the Marilynne Robinson blurb on the back cover or the Eleanor Henderson New York Times review [CLICK HERE for that] that prompted my purchase but I would be lying. It was the boys on the cover.

And then I read the book. I am a sucker for stories of unrequited or badly requited love. Were there a PhD available in such things, I would have three or four. I suspect Ms. Dermont, too, would be wearing the mantle. She captures with grace that tortured-coming-of-age consciousness, managing to render protagonist Jason fully-flawed but, too, wholly sympathetic. He is revealed not only through his feelings for love-interests Cal and Aidan, but also in his relationships with authority figures from father to dean to coach, and especially, with his contemporaries and teammates. Whether despite or because of a series of difficult life circumstances leaving him an open wound of a heart and soul, every interaction registers for Jason, reverberates, and he must process and piece it into the puzzle of his maturation, accommodating the jagged edges of the often illusion-shattering adolescent discoveries.

The novel is technically adept, carefully constructed and rich with symbolism and metaphor artfully wrought. I have been on a boat exactly once in my life, circling and visiting Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, so I suspect that my grasp of the depth of echoes in all the sailing and star-navigating sea talk was less than complete but its language was entrancing none-the-less. There were also mythical and literary allusions aplenty, all of which, combined with the insightful exploration of the treacherous  journey of loving and losing and discovering made The Starboard Sea a novel I quite enjoyed by a writer from whom I hope to hear again soon.

I did NOT buy The Starboard Sea from my dear friends at The Curious Iguana [CLICK HERE TO VISIT] because they did not yet exist. Happy Birthday to them! It’s now been one wonderful year!


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